NOVEMBER 2006             back

Bob Dylan: Nov 16th at The Meadowlands Arena (The Raconteurs opened)

If you tell someone you're going to a Bob Dylan concert, you're likely to get one of two general responses. The first in something along the lines of "How cool! I wish I was going". The second is more like "I don't think I could listen to that voice for two hours".

It's no secret that he's not someone you'd describe as having a great voice (unless you're talking about the "voice" of a generation). His singing utilizes raspy growls, nasal whines and sometimes he'll just talk the lyrics, but he does have good pitch so he's rarely off key. To make things even more challenging, he sometimes changes tempos, phrasing and melodies to make you figure out what song he's playing even if you've heard it a hundred times before.

All of this makes me understand why some people might have a hard time with him. Let's just say he can be an acquired taste. But I'm not one of those people. For me, it's thrilling to hear one of the greatest songwriters in popular music history performing those songs in concert.

The last time I saw him was near the beginning of the Iraq war and the show had an ominous vibe. For that show he played more obscure songs and songs of desperation and woe. This experience was significantly different. He played four songs from his new bluesy CD, Modern Times, including Rollin and Tumblin and Spirit On The Water which were particularly enjoyable, and the balance of the set was predominately big fan favorites including Positively 4th Street, Senor, Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue, Things Have Changed, Highway 61 Revisited and the final encore All Along The Watchtower.

Bob, on keyboards and a little harmonica, was backed by five musicians who navigated easily through the blues, swing, country waltzes, rock and pop tunes in the set. Vocally, he was about as good as he gets mixing emotion with enthusiasm and singing most of the songs in recognizable fashion (it did take me a few moments to figure out Things Have Changed).

The Raconteurs opened the show with a one hour set that brought to mind the heyday of the British Invasion with sounds reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, Cream and the alternative universe Beatles who rocked harder than the Stones. Fronted by Jack White of the White Stripes and Brendan Benson; their new CD, Broken Boy Soldiers, is one of the more interesting rock albums of late. They definitely came across as a band and not  "Jack White and the Raconteurs". I wouldn't go as far as to say I'd rush out to see them again, but I enjoyed the set and am curious to see where they go from here.

 

"Putumayo Presents Acoustic Africa" with Vusi Mahlasela, Habib Koite  & Dobet Gnahore: November 14th at BB Kings Blues Club

About eight or ten times a year I leave a show thinking "Wow! That might be the best show I've seen this year". Of course, right after a really great show I have such a sense of nirvana and am so full of adrenaline that it's probably not the best time to objectively make that determination. Since I'm writing this one day after the show, I'm able to temper my reaction and say "Wow! That was one of the best shows I've seen this year".

The show opened with Vusi and Dobet each performing one song solo and Habib performing one song with his band. For the rest of the evening they combined forces and performed in various combinations of solo, duo and trio with assorted combinations of the back up musicians. These three artists from South Africa (Vusi), Mali (Habib) and The Ivory Coast (Dobet) had never met before this tour but played and sang like a family that grew up performing together. Quite a feat considering that they had to learn the songs in each others languages.

All three have beautiful and powerful voices and their vocal harmonies, which sometimes included some band members, were simply glorious. Vusi and Habib, who I've reviewed on these pages before, are also extraordinary guitarists and songwriters. It turns out that Dobet, who I was not familiar with before this show, is also quite the accomplished dancer, wowing the audience with her sexy and frenetic African gyrations. I see from a quick check on line that she's a songwriter as well. A "perfect storm" of talent.

The set list was a mix of all three artists works including Vusi's When You Come Back and Habib's Cigeretts Abana, which are probably the best known songs for each. All the songs, familiar or not, reached me in one way or another in spite of not understanding the lyrics. That's one of the mysteries of great music. You'll find CD's from Vusi and Habib on my lists of favorites and I suspect Dobet will also eventually find her way there.

Some of the humor of the show came from Vusi emulating Dobet's movements. Although he's graceful and very light on his feet for a middle aged and somewhat big man, what seemed sexy on a young and fit woman was humorous on his not as young or fit male body. He also tended to be the talker of the group with some song explanations and amusing short stories throughout the evening. Habib also managed a little kidding but Dobet, who speaks almost no English, limited herself to a few words.

Just before intermission all three were inducted into the Afropop Hall of Fame, with Dobet winning the best emerging artist award. Sean Barlow, who hosts NPR's Afropop Worldwide, presented the awards for musical excellence and their efforts to bring African music to the world (This concert will be broadcast on his show in the not too distant future).  Afropop is a general description of African music flavored with a variety of western popular styles that can include jazz, blues, soul, rock, hip-hop and others. The music of most of the African artists I've reviewed on these pages can be generally described as Afropop.

This night would have been satisfying enough with the great vocals, virtuoso musicianship, infectious rhythms,  beautiful melodies, exciting dancing and bits of humor. But on top of that I found free parking in mid-town, had a really good hamburger,  got kissed on the cheek by a beautiful young black waitress who Judy and I were friendly with from when she worked at Joe's Pub and we sat with some interesting people who are planning a trip to Africa next year to attend the annual "Concert in the Desert" in Mali. It was as close as you can get to a perfect evening without winning money.

There were an awful lot of shows going on in the city this particular evening including Los Lonely Boys with Ozomotli at Nokia right around the corner, Brazilian singer Marisa Monte at The Beacon, Aretha Franklin at The Hammerstein, Shawn Colvin at Town Hall and Chick Corea at the Blue Note to name a few. If I had to do it over again, there's no doubt I'd go to this show again.

 

Alicia Keys, David Bowie, Angelique Kidjo, Damian Marley... : November 9th at Hammerstein Ballroom

This was a benefit concert for the "Keep a Child Alive" organization which tries to raise money and awareness for children in Africa who are suffering and dying of AIDS simply because they can't afford the medicines which could keep them alive. Alicia Keys and Iman, who is David Bowie's wife, are both very active with this group.

It's sad that almost anyone you talk to can tell you the latest sexcapades of ditsy pop stars like Britany or Jessica, but so few are aware that someone like their contemporary, Alicia Keys , who is a talent for the ages, spends her leisure time trying to help children.

The first hour of this show was a series of awards, videos and testimonials honoring various people who have dedicated themselves to the cause. A scenario like that always has potential for boredom but the recipient's stories were so inspiring that there was a sense of drama that was somewhat gripping. During this segment of the show a number of celebrities appeared on stage in a variety of capacities including host Wanda Sykes, Elijah Woods, Edward Norton, Iman,  Jeffrey Wright and Alicia Keys, among others. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were likely the best known in the audience.

The music portion of the show began with a couple of quick acts that held no interest for me but then Angelique Kidjo took the stage, fronting Alicia's band of 11 musicians and three back up singers, and belted out her version of Jimi Hendrix' Voodoo Child which started my adrenaline pumping. Then Alicia came out and joined Angelique for the next two songs including Angelique's Afrika which was an audience sing along. The combining of these two beautiful and powerful voices was a moving experience for me. For more on African singer Angelique, who is one of my favorites, read one of my many previous reviews including the review just below this one.

 Damian (Jr. Gong) Marley, who's the youngest of the Jamaican Marley musical clan, mixes the basic reggae sensibility, the beat along with political and social commentary, with aspects of hip-hop, R&B and club music. His two song set, which also included Alicia, really had the audience bopping, especially to the the very infectious Road To Zion from his most recent CD called Welcome To Jamrock. I enjoyed his performance immensely.

Alicia's own set, six songs or so, included great covers of Janis Joplin's Piece Of My Heart, the one hit wonder Ooh Child from The Five Stairsteps and Bob Marley's reggae classic War. This was the first time I've seen Alicia Keys in concert and I have to say that I had high expectations and she managed to exceed them all. As this show indicated, she has the ability to transcend musical genres and hold her own on a stage with anyone.

Last up was David Bowie, another of my all time favorites who I last saw in concert over thirty years ago as well as seeing him about ten years later on Broadway in the lead of the Elephant Man. He opened with the very emotional Wild Is The Wind, from the movie of the same name, accompanied by piano, and followed that with two of his own songs including one of his oldest and biggest hits Changes. The whole band accompanied him for those and Alicia joined him for Changes. He sounded great and it was a real thrill seeing him again.

In fact, all four performers and Alicia's band impressed me so much - and it's likely that this was a once in a lifetime experience - that I was left with that feeling of total satisfaction which completely justified spending the money for this rather expensive benefit show.  I won't wait thirty years to see any of these artists again.

 

Angelique Kidjo: November 1st at The Winter Garden Atrium (w/ Susan McKeown and Yungchen Lhamo opening)

This free show, appropriately called "The World In New York", featured three female vocalists who hail from distinctly different parts of the globe, but who all now call New York home. The show, which was hosted by John Schaefer of 93.9 WNYC who briefly interviewed each artist before their respective sets, will be broadcast on that station the night before Thanksgiving.

Opening the show was Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo who, in 1990,  escaped Chinese oppression with a 1,000 mile trek through the Himalayas to India. That's when she she began professionally singing the traditional Tibetan songs taught to her by her mother and grandmother. Eventually, she began to add Indian, African and western sounds to her music creating world music with what is probably best described as a new age sound. Her new CD is called "Ama" and features guest appearances by English singers Joy Askew and Annie Lennox.

Her short set included an a cappella song with the audience chanting OM the whole way through. Very relaxing! She also did some other tunes a cappella, and was accompanied by a synthesizer on one or two. Her message of peace and forgiveness was very inspiring, especially after reading her bio, and brought to mind the Amish folk who recently forgave the crazed gunman who had murdered their children. I find incredible strength is more often observed in peaceful acts than in violence.

Next up was Irish singer/songwriter Susan McKeown who I've heard before on 90.7 WFUV. Her music has it's roots in Irish and English folk music, but she tends to explore other avenues including jazz, rock and Mexican music, among others. Highlighting that point was her jazzy version of the Beatles "She's Leaving Home", accompanied by only an upright bass, and the fact that her band included a balafon, an African xylophone made of wood. Her set also included an old Irish work song sung in Gaelic. She has a beautiful voice and the eclectic nature of her music is appealing to me.

  I've reviewed Angelique Kidjo, from The Republic of Benin,  so many times on these pages that I don't want to repeat myself. So I'll just say that her stripped down band of guitar, percussion and bass, played a handful of songs from her last two CD's, including two of my favorites "Bahia" and "Tumba", and sounded great. She is one of the great voices in world music and like Yungchen Lhamo, has a strong message of peace and co-existence. You should read my previous reviews of her shows and check out some of her CD's. They come with my highest recommendation.

 I ran into Angelique and her husband Jean before the show and he told me that her new CD will be out in the spring and will include several guest artists that he can't disclose at this time. She'll also be at BB King's Blues Club in May. You can expect to see me there.